Nutrition Facts Labels Europe vs U.S.A.

European nutrition facts labels are easier to understand than American labels because they use 100g units, making the grams interchangeable with percentages (100g=100%) and giving the consumer a much clearer picture of what they’re eating. Below I make some comparisons between food labels in the U.S. and Europe:

Milk Nutrition Facts

If we look at the milk labels below from Denmark and Spain, the fat is 3.5g out of 100g, therefore it’s easy to transfer this to percentages and realize this whole milk has 3.5% fat. The milk from Spain, which is semi-skimmed milk, has 1.6% fat. All the nutrition elements transfer directly to percentages. Europeans learn in grade school that 1 liter (1L) of water is equal to 1 kilogram of water (1Kg). Although milk has a higher density than water, 1L of milk is equal to 1.035Kg, which is almost the same.

Now let’s compare with two American containers of milk:

American nutrition facts labels’ appear to be driven more by calories than the nutritional values. We can see on both these labels the Calories are in big bold writing and would be the first thing the consumer sees. The first question that comes to mind by looking at these two labels is if the dairy companies are trying to sell these products to help the consumer by telling them how many Calories their milk holds or are they trying to fool the consumer by implying their milk doesn’t have many calories? The next question I would ask: Is the American or the European label more beneficial to the obese and/or diabetic consumer?

American food labels require a calculator to really understand them or a notebook where we can jot down the math. 8g of fat or 11g of sugars for one cup of milk is simply very hard to visualize. 1 cup, 240 ml of milk, is almost the same as 240g of milk. 8g of fat is therefore 3% of fat per cup. 11g of sugars is 4.58% of one cup. The low fat milk bottle does an excellent job in telling us its total contents, promoting those small plastic bottles, but not making the general nutritional facts of skim milk very comprehensible.

Unlike the European labels, which list the total milk amount in the packages on the same side, both these American products post it in a different side of the container. Yes, the whole milk nutrition facts’ label does say 8 servings per container and that one serving is 240 ml but that means multiplying by 8 to know how much there is of everything, or turning the container to the other side. Also if the measurements are in grams and milliliters then why not just use the metric system altogether?

Egg Nutrition Facts

Although the American egg carton does an excellent job in telling you how many calories are in one 50g egg, it doesn’t quite tell you it’s an average weight since not all eggs in a carton weigh the same. The nutrient value once again requires a mental calculation if you want to understand its overall percentage values: 6g = 12% protein, and 5g =10% fat. In addition, 50g is not an easily transferable number to American measuring units. For example, one ounce weighs 28.35 grams, and 1 pound is 453.59 grams; meaning this 50g egg is 1.76 ounces, or 0.11 pounds. Although the European egg carton doesn’t tell you how many Calories one egg has, its nutrient values can always be easily converted to percentages.

Cheddar Cheese Nutrition Facts

When you eat Cheddar in the U.S. is it immediately apparent that for every piece you eat almost 1/3 of it is pure fat? To figure that out you have to divide 9g by 28g. The protein is easier to calculate: 28g / 7g is 25% but it also requires doing a fraction in your head. With the European label, most grade schoolers can tell you this particular Cheddar has 32% fat, 26% protein and etc.

Jam Nutrition Facts

Did you know this American jam contains 52.6% sugar? Fully grasping this does require some math: 10g /19g. The European label is simply more straight forward: The jam from Spain has 12% sugar and the other has 63%, 12g and 63g respectively.

Percentage of Daily Values are referred to in the United Kingdom and the European Union countries as Reference Intakes. They may be listed in a different part of the food packaging as we see in the Tesco Jam label above. Declaring them on a food label in Europe is not mandatory. They are also often based in the 2000 Calories a day concept. Calories in Europe are referred to as kc, or kilocalories.

Obesity and diabetes in the U.S. (almost 42% of the adult population and 11.3% of Americans respectively) cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Nutrition Facts Labels may be the first line of defense against those ailments.


Gov-UK Technical Guidance on Nutritional Labeling

HSN Blog, Nutrición, Salud y Deportes

Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Danish Food Agency

Renew Bariatrics

World Population Review

Copyright © 2023 Jorge Luis Carbajosa


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